Search for a solution to education funding gaps

For many New Hampshire communities, urban lines can still make a big financial difference.

In Brooklyn, residents of a $ 200,000 home have to pay $ 4,140 in annual property taxes to local schools, the highest rate in the state. In one city, Mason, a house worth the same $ 200,000 is taxed at $ 2,358.

In Clermont, residents pay $ 19.64 in local education tax for every $ 1,000 of the appraised value of the property; just up the Connecticut River in Hanover residents pay $ 9.01 for $ 1,000. Despite lower property prices in less affluent cities, residents pay much more proportional taxes to fund their schools.

As the debate revolves around critical racial theory, education freedom accounts, and mask policies in schools, the issue of inequality in school funding has received less attention in the past two years.

But the problem remains despite 30 years of landmark decisions by the state Supreme Court and an ongoing lawsuit in 2019 aimed at a lack of funding. And this year, as in previous years, lawmakers say they have suggestions on how to solve this problem.

One idea could increase assistance to schools while maintaining the same funding formula. Another would eradicate this funding formula and find new ways to distribute aid.

However, some supporters say both proposals are half-measures. Their advantage is that New Hampshire has eliminated its dependence on property taxes to fund public schools.

A new look at “adequate”

According to spokesman Dave Luno, the problem with the New Hampshire school funding formula is that its creators were looking the wrong way through the telescope.

Currently, counties are starting the same by the formula: any district that cannot fund the minimum amount of tuition per public school student solely through local property taxes receives a minimum of $ 3,786.66 per student. Counties then receive additional funding for students who are eligible for free and discounted lunches, require special education, learn English, or have dropped below the level of proficiency on a third-grade state assessment. These additions can add thousands of dollars in annual government funding to a student’s education.

The system is based primarily on equal funding; adjustments are based mainly on the income profile of district students. Luneau argues this is the reverse focus. Instead of focusing its state aid on education on the economic status of individual students, the state should allocate money based on more significant indicators: the school’s ability to provide adequate opportunities, he says.

“Maintaining a flat formula and expanding fiscal imbalances is a really expensive way to do it, because you are, in fact, already distributing public dollars, which is about a billion dollars, and you are distributing them fairly evenly, regardless of whether you move to Manchester. or you are the New Castle, ”said a Democrat from Hopkinton.

Luno’s proposal will rethink the formula. His bill, the House of Representatives Bill of 1680, abolishes this default amount, which is issued to all counties receiving adequate assistance, and replaces it with a new calculation – the “budget of opportunity” – depending on how much funding each district needs to give children equal opportunities to achieve state assessment averages.

Under the bill, the Department of Education will evaluate each school district using criteria such as student assessment scores and graduation and attendance rates, as well as internal factors that can make raising these indicators more difficult, such as population density and high staffing.

These estimates will be introduced into the formula to determine what the district receives from the state to create equal opportunities for success.

Idea: New Hampshire’s definitions as to what constitutes adequate education and what needs to be funded will focus on the ability to improve student outcomes.

The bill stems from the findings of the Education Funding Commission in 2020, chaired by Luno, which found that New Hampshire’s unequal school funding system forces some cities to pay more in local tax dollars to achieve the same test results.

Instead of pegging government dollars to the number of low-income students, the commission felt the Department of Education should tie funding to schools that lag behind in indicators that determine whether students have equal opportunities. This may mean that some areas that now receive state aid receive less and others more. Assistance will be provided gradually over eight years.

It is unclear which areas will benefit from the restructuring; The Department of Education did not conduct a fiscal analysis. But the Luno bill faces significant hurdles. Last week, the House Education Committee unanimously voted in favor of sending the bill for interim consideration so lawmakers could study it in the summer. This recommendation will be submitted to the full Chamber this week.

However, Luno hopes the bill represents a new vision of school funding that could be bipartisan – especially one that does not raise government taxes. And he said additional months to study the issue could help strengthen that support.

“What we are doing here must be a solid solution,” he said. “And the way to do that is to work through the aisle.”

Purposeful increase

In the Senate, Senator Erin Hennessy has a more traditional idea to help reduce inequality: keep the current funding formula, but give more needy counties.

In the bipartisan-supported bill, Hennessey proposes to give “poor” cities – those with low property values ​​- up to $ 650 per low-income student to increase the extra funding already given to districts. Cities with an equal property value of less than $ 1 million per student will automatically receive a $ 650 increase for students eligible for free and discounted lunch. Cities with an estimate of up to $ 6 million per student will receive a sliding scale of student aid, while cities with an estimate of $ 6 million per student and will no longer receive additional aid.

The bill provides for a direct increase in funding for cities that have traditionally fought. Pittsfield will receive $ 240,889 over the next two fiscal years, Clermont will receive $ 854,060 and Berlin $ 678,123, according to an analysis by the Department of Education attached to the bill. Wealthy cities such as Hanover and Wolfborough will not receive aid.

According to Hennessy, this approach is consistent with what she says is a broader Republican vision for school funding: to add support to traditional public schools to reduce inequality for most students, while expanding alternatives for minorities, through charter schools , private school schools and homeschooling through Freedom of Education accounts.

“(The question is, what’s best for the children we have, and how are we going to raise them better?” Hennessy said. “And I think it’s a good tool we can use to fund things in the state. “.

The bill also drew buy-ins from the entire aisle; two Democrats, Senator David Waters of Dover and the late MP Barbara Shaw of Manchester, sponsored the bill. And this year, apparently, he will gain momentum. He was removed from the Senate by unanimous vote.

Hennessy says he sees $ 650 in aid as a potentially permanent addition to the funding formula.

“Now the ‘permanent’ depends on the future legislature,” she said. “But it means, ‘Hey, future legislators, we need to keep looking at this and make sure we’re getting extra help from the cities that need it most.’

Disadvantage

However, while lawmakers are fiddling, some interested observers say none of the proposals address the crux of the problem: property taxes. Testifying lawmakers, the New Hampshire School of Justice’s funding advocacy group argued that while additional help from struggling counties is welcome, the solution should be a more secure investment in education in the state.

“HB 1680 would not achieve the comprehensive reform necessary for New Hampshire to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to provide adequate education for every child,” said Jeff McLinch, the group’s director, in a statement to the House Education Committee. afterwards praised Luno’s account.

The Hennessey bill will preserve the formula and build more relief; The Luno bill will rework the formula, but will keep the overall level of state spending on education at the same level. For McLinch, both ignore the big goal.

“While there may be a shared responsibility for providing adequate education, the responsibility for funding adequate education for each child is the responsibility of New Hampshire and the state alone,” McLinch said.

Luno said the legislature should use the funding and political impetus it has now.

“By working within the resources of the existing state, we can significantly improve our ability to close capacity gaps,” he said. This means that the most pressing issue of public funding for education – whether the state needs an income tax – can still be avoided, Luno said.

“It could be a debate that lasts forever in the state,” he added. “But when closing gaps in opportunities is postponed forever while people discuss it, then we are doing the wrong thing for our children.”

.

Leave a Comment